|Photo: Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News|
When the Michigan football squad takes the field Saturday for their annual spring game, folks may be a bit confused. For the first time in at least my memory, Michigan will play an actual game. With two teams and everything. Two rosters, two coaching staffs, two unique sides…Maize and Blue.
For Michigan, this is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that is being put back together to get back to the way things used to be. To get back to Bo.
Bo Schembechler was just one man, but his legacy is much much more. His influence was and continues to be immeasurable on the university he coached for and loved for so many years. But it seems that Bo, after his death, has become much larger and more influential than the man ever was.
Today, Bo Schembechler is an idea. It's a set of values. It's a culture of winning and doing it the right way. It's pushing young men to be more than what they thought they could be. It's The Team The Team The Team. It's Those Who Stay Will Be Champions. And with two of his disciples now in command – Jim Hackett and Jim Harbaugh, the impact of Bo is being felt in Ann Arbor now more than ever.
Any interview done with Jim Harbaugh often touches on the Bo topic at least once. Any time Harbaugh speaks, he will mention Bo. There's no doubt where Harbaugh draws his coaching inspiration from. Between Bo and his father Jack, Jim and his brother John have been graced with a football upbringing second to none, and it clearly shows in the record books.
For the better part of the last 10 years, Michigan football has been on a journey to find itself…to adapt to a college football world seemingly changing by the hour. But even as culture shifts have occurred in and around the sport, one thing certainly hasn't: Toughness and discipline still wins football games. Play your game at the highest level, and you'll be unstoppable.
Michigan stopped playing it's game, they stopped being who they are, and then got sucked into playing someone else's game. The culture in Ann Arbor shifted from being Michigan, to trying to be something else.
I will strongly contest that the loss to Ohio State in 2006, the Rose Bowl loss to USC, the loss to Appalachian State and the loss to Oregon – all in a horrible, dreadful 4-game span, sent the Michigan program into a tailspin that it still has not fully recovered from.
When Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez in 2008, they didn't just hire a new coach, they sprinted away from a recipe of success that had been working since the Nixon administration. Yes, a coaching change needed to be made…but not a culture change.
The death of Bo and the loss to the Buckeyes one day later in the biggest matchup in the history of the rivalry was pivotal moment for Michigan football. The effects of that loss…and the subsequent loss to Appy State changed Michigan football in a very deep way. All of the sudden, Michigan was old and vulnerable. They were scared. They saw Appy State and Oregon shred our defense with a dynamic spread offense and thought…yeah, let's get us one of those!
Rich Rod: The absolute worst snap decision at the worst possible time.
There have been small glimpses in recent years of what Michigan used to be…but they have been too few and far between. I do think Brady Hoke did his best to get Michigan back there, but it wasn't until Harbaugh returned wearing that famous Bo 'M' cap, that we realized just how far from home we've strayed. And while he will never come right out and say it, Jim is on a mission to get Michigan back to being Michigan again.
Helmet stickers. Black shoes. No more piped in music. No more legend patches. These are all ancillary things, but these moves signal a clear and present evolution away from the unpolished modern version of Michigan football, towards the more mature and seasoned version of Michigan Football that has a much more successful track record.
Can Jim resurrect Michigan football back to it's former glory? It will take a herculean effort. One that nobody questions if Jim Harbaugh is up for.
"Stress, I believe, is life-giving energy. I think it makes you live longer. I think it's life-giving energy. I think it keeps you young."No doubt…Jim's plate is full right now as everyone's expectations are now centered on Michigan's eventual return to glory. But it would seem that for the first time in a long time, the man patrolling the sidelines is up to the task.